Nobility.

Like most Americans, I’ve always had only a hazy idea of what is meant by “aristocracy,” “nobility,” and the like (“dukes and earls,” as my friend Mike used to say), but I’m starting to think hardly anyone understands it, since the closer you look the more impenetrable it gets. I’m reading Irina Reyfman’s excellent How Russia Learned to Write: Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks, and on pp. 5-6 she writes:

The term “nobility” requires a brief elucidation. Students of Russian history and culture of the Imperial period face a difficulty when choosing the appropriate term for this group. Not only are all of the possible translations of dvoriane or the collective term dvorianstvo into English (“aristocracy,” “nobility,” “gentry”) misleading to various degrees (as Marc Raeff argues in his seminal study of the eighteenth-century Russian nobility), but even in Russian the term competes with other designations, such as aristokratiia (aristocracy) or znat’ (notables). For this reason, many contemporary historians prefer to use, often alongside dvorianstvo, the neutral terms “elite” and “elites” (elita and elity), as neither existed at the time discussed and are therefore “unburdened” by contemporary connotations. However, these terms are too vague to be used without a qualifier, such as “service,” “cultural,” “intellectual,” or “economic,” all of which intersect only partially with the terms dvoriane and dvorianstvo, with the degree of intersection changing over time. The more traditional if imperfect terms “nobles” and “nobility” are thus preferable.

This linguistic uncertainty reflects an uncertainty about the composition of the group itself. For all practical purposes, the post-Petrine shliakhetstvo (or dvorianstvo, as it came to be called later in the eighteenth century) was a newly formed estate. The eighteenth-century dvorianstvo incorporated not only all kinds of pre-Petrine elite groups (such as the upper echelons of Muscovite nobility—boyars—as well as both middle and upper serving classes, deti boiarskie and dvoriane) but also commoners who were able to enter the noble class thanks either to successful service or to sluchái, imperial favor. The boundaries of the group, particularly in the early eighteenth century, were thus uncertain and shifting.

And right after reading that I ran into this in Tobias Gregory’s LRB review of Philippe Desan’s Montaigne: A Life:

The 16th-century French nobility was a heterogeneous and expanding class. In theory you were noble or you weren’t; in practice there were ambiguities and gradations. The old or upper nobility, the noblesse d’épée, was a small hereditary class containing descendants of the medieval knightly families who had provided military service to the crown in exchange for landed estates. Montaigne belonged to the larger and more permeable class of lower nobility, claiming a place in two ways: by inheriting his father’s seigneurial estate, and by becoming a magistrate, which made him a member of the noblesse de robe, or a robin. A magistrate’s office conferred noble status, according to the official explanation, because the king’s justice was royal and therefore should be administered by nobles. The real reason was that the crown sold the offices, and the title was an incentive. Montaigne’s uncle purchased himself a seat in the Bordeaux parlement in 1535, and Pierre Eyquem bought his eldest son a seat in a new tax court established in Périgueux in 1556. This court was dissolved after two years, and its officers, including the 25-year-old Montaigne, were transferred by royal command into the parlement of Bordeaux, where they were unwelcome and treated badly by the incumbent magistrates, because this expansion diluted their authority and income. Places in the magistracy were not sinecures; as a junior member of the Bordeaux parlement Montaigne worked hard at the routine business of writing up case reports. To their purchasers they conveyed an income and a career path, as well as the prestige of the title. A robin might be promoted within the regional magistracy; he might, with connections and talent, rise to an administrative position at court, which had use for capable new men. But to be perceived as noble in a fuller sense, it was not enough to hold a magistrate’s office or own a seigneurial estate. Your family had to be known to have ‘lived nobly’ on its estate for at least a hundred years: that is, to reside principally there, and to derive its main income from land rather than from commerce. Here Montaigne’s claim was tenuous. In 1571 the family had owned the estate for almost a hundred years, but Pierre had been the first Eyquem to make an effort to live nobly at Montaigne, and even he spent considerable time in the city. Montaigne’s retirement inscription declared not only his literary ambitions but his intent to live on his lands in a manner in keeping with the title he had recently inherited. Unsurprisingly he does not dwell on his family’s bourgeois origins. In describing his château as the ‘sweet retreat of his ancestors’ he gives the impression that they had been at Montaigne for time out of mind.

It reminds me of the self-important bickering among Proust’s aristocratic set, and I’m glad that’s one nest of vipers I’ll never have to step into.

Comments

  1. AJP Crown says:

    Surely it’s all based on reducing downward mobility. The rules are made up as they go along, like those of a playground group that won’t let you join in. You can read about its current manifestation – also from the LRB this time by Adam Swift – here:

    Politicians are keen on people moving up: they talk as if they are all for removing the obstacles that prevent children from lower origins climbing the social ladder. But they daren’t mention those moving down. That’s unfortunate, since lack of downward mobility is one of the barriers to upward mobility. (Goldthorpe tells a nice story about a Cabinet Office seminar at which one of Blair’s chief political advisers protested: ‘But Tony can’t possibly go to the country on a platform of increasing downward mobility!’) In the effort to address equality of opportunity, the silence around downward mobility has always been a problem. Given a set of outcomes – of destinations – for which people are, in effect, competing, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or even a social scientist, to see that the situation is zero-sum: the only way to improve the chances of those whose prospects are worse than average is to reduce the chances of those whose are better than average.

  2. Lars Mathiesen says:

    “We want to create a school system where all children achieve above average results!” — rumored to have been said by a Danish education minister.

    That said, letting the stupid get of the privileged classes sink so the talented offspring of the oppressed can rise, that’s only fair.

  3. Lars Mathiesen says:

    On intranobiliary bickering, also look up the late Prince Consort of Denmark.

  4. Google odnodvortsy.

    That was the largest downward mobility event in Russian history. An entire class, equal in size to nobility, and, in fact, historically descended from them, was turned into peasants and commoners.

  5. Also there was a vast downgrading of Russian Polish sclachta post-1863 Uprising, when the erstwhile nobility had to prove land ownership in order to keep the class status (which wasn’t merely honorary, as the official classes had vastly different legal status, including military service, punitive justice, and freedom of movement).

    Also Native tribal and band chiefs lost their nobility status.

    Pre-Petrine upper classes weren’t so much a “layered cake” as one uninterrupted pecking order (mestnichestvo) where no two nobles were “equal” but rather, everyone was either higher or lower by status than anyone else.

  6. Heh. “The rules are made up as they go along, like those of a playground group that won’t let you join in.” That made me laugh aloud.

  7. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The Kingdom of Denmark has an order of precedence too. My mother is placed in class 4.4 for life (I think, there are conflicting archived versions online), having retired in good standing from her position as head librarian for the Danish Veterinary and Agricultural Library (as it was then known, it was later administratively merged with all other university libraries).

  8. The Kingdom of Denmark has an order of precedence too

    As do most countries, including the US. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_order_of_precedence

    Given a set of outcomes – of destinations – for which people are, in effect, competing, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or even a social scientist, to see that the situation is zero-sum:

    But this is nonsense. Or at least it’s only not nonsense if your only measure of how good an outcome is is how many other people it places you above. In which case the last seven centuries have been a constant downward slope for my family, as we moved from impoverished barefoot chiefs of a minor clan in a war-ridden tribal society to comfortable middle-class citizens of an advanced democracy.

  9. Polish szlachta, on the other hand, considered itself to be an equal and eternal warrior caste, as a rule without domestic titles, inductions or downgrades. They were framed as citizenry or a race rather than as gentry or tiered class pyramid

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    I can’t imagine the state dep’t’s “order of precedence” is of any significance to the actual life of any Americans except in unusual circumstances (relevant to only a small minority of the population) like seating arrangements for fancy dinners at the White House — and even then it only ranks individuals in the current-or-former-officeholder demographic as among themselves. If the White House hosts a state dinner for the visiting prime minister of Slovenia or what have you and manages to liven up the guest list by getting some Hollywood starlets and/or Silicon Valley CEO’s and/or prominent private-sector Slovenian-Americans to agree to attend, those folks won’t in practice all be treated like mere commoners lumped together at the end of the line.

    I suppose slightly more relevant in American life are the somewhat broader conventions about which governmental titles (including military ranks) are important enough that they will be used in some contexts in lieu of Mr./Ms/Dr./etc. for the person even after they retire or otherwise leave office (as well as meta-conventions for those who have previously held multiple offices, like that which led to Mrs. Clinton being more commonly referred to during the 2016 campaign as “Secretary Clinton” than as “Senator Clinton”). Of course, context is everything. There may be a formal convention that someone who has served even briefly in the relevant diplomatic role for the U.S. may be called “Ambassador SURNAME” for the rest of their life, but if they return to private-sector employment and instruct their secretary to always answer the phone “Ambassador SURNAME’s office,” people may make fun of them behind their back.

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    My mother is placed in class 4.4 for life

    How many people would you have to dispose of before she became Queen?

    I see from Wikipedia that the Queen’s full name is Margrethe Alexandrine Þórhildur Ingrid. I hadn’t realized that Þ occurred in Danish.

  12. Trond Engen says:

    It doesn’t. She was born princess of a realm that included an increasingly independent-minded Iceland.

  13. Princes William and Harry are Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex in England, Earls of Strathearn and Dumbarton in Scotland, and Barons of Carrickfergus and Kilkeel in Northern Ireland. Lower-ranked title = lower-ranked constituent country.

    Why couldn’t William have been Duke of Cambridge, Marquess of Strathearn, Earl of Kilkeel, Viscount Aberystwyth, and Baron St Helier?

    I guess Harry will soon be Marquess of Winnipeg.

  14. AJP Crown says:

    Some of those Wikipedia orders of precedence are very telling. The England & Wales and the Scotland ones seem to be the longest by far, as you might expect. They include thousands of people including widow(er)s, cousins of former monarchs, they even have a post that’s been vacant since 1540; the last Vicegerent [sic] in Spirituals was Thomas Cromwell (we all know what happened to him, no one since has wanted the job).

  15. Stu Clayton says:

    “We want to create a school system where all children achieve above average results!” — rumored to have been said by a Danish education minister.

    This is not hard to do. That it seems impossible is a result of not taking time into account (a failure which hobbles much thinking on all kinds of topics).

    In order to simplify the explanation I will use an extreme scenario. Suppose we start with 5 children, all of whom get a C on one test. On the next test, child 1 gets a C+, while the others get a C. This gives child 1 an above-average result, and the other four children a below-average result. On the third test, child 2 gets a C+ and the others a C. And so on.

    Each child gets above-average results some of the time. The minister did not stipulate all the time.

  16. AJP Crown says:

    “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” – Garrison Keillor (he was married to a Dane), Prairie Home Companion Minnesota Public Radio.

  17. Just started reading Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens is funny on the subject of nobility:

    As no lady or gentleman, with any claims to polite breeding, can possibly sympathize with the Chuzzlewit Family without being first assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest. If it should ever be urged by grudging and malicious persons, that a Chuzzlewit, in any period of the family history, displayed an overweening amount of family pride, surely the weakness will be considered not only pardonable but laudable, when the immense superiority of the house to the rest of mankind, in respect of this its ancient origin, is taken into account.

    It is remarkable that as there was, in the oldest family of which we have any record, a murderer and a vagabond, so we never fail to meet, in the records of all old families, with innumerable repetitions of the same phase of character. Indeed, it may be laid down as a general principle, that the more extended the ancestry, the greater the amount of violence and vagabondism; for in ancient days those two amusements, combining a wholesome excitement with a promising means of repairing shattered fortunes, were at once the ennobling pursuit and the healthful recreation of the Quality of this land.

    Consequently, it is a source of inexpressible comfort and happiness to find, that in various periods of our history, the Chuzzlewits were actively connected with divers slaughterous conspiracies and bloody frays. It is further recorded of them, that being clad from head to heel in steel of proof, they did on many occasions lead their leather-jerkined soldiers to the death with invincible courage, and afterwards return home gracefully to their relations and friends.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    a member of the noblesse de robe, or a robin.

    *lightbulb moment*

    Polish szlachta, on the other hand, considered itself to be an equal and eternal warrior caste, as a rule without domestic titles, inductions or downgrades. They were framed as citizenry or a race rather than as gentry or tiered class pyramid

    At some point they decided they were descended from the Sarmatians.

    …which is why most research on Iranian loanwords into Slavic has been done in Poland, and why it has relied more on Polish than on, say, Old Church Slavic or Old East Slavic.

    we all know what happened to him

    Cromwell Road in London is named after him. It’s where the Natural History Museum is.

    (That’s its full name. Apparently there isn’t any other natural-history museum on this planet.)

  19. There is, of course, no reason why a relatively small sub-population cannot all be above average (as on, say, Minnesota’s high-stakes educational tests).

  20. Apparently there isn’t any other natural-history museum on this planet.

    The others are all copies or upstarts.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    The specimen numbers do have the sense to begin with NHMUK.

  22. People in Ireland used to call The Open Championship the British Open, until it was held in Northern Ireland.

    I have noticed Irish media in the last 15 years or so increasingly referring to government ministers as “Minister Murphy”, switching to Mr/Mrs/Dr only on second or third mention. I surmise this began with lazy regurgitation of government press releases without toning down their puffery.

  23. David, I’m pretty sure that Cromwell Road is named after Oliver’s son Richard, who owned a farm between the site of the Lycée Charles de Gaulle & South Ken. underground. Richard was Lord Protector for one year, after his father died; he renounced the title when Charles II returned from France and is said to be* the subject of Hickory Dickery Dock (“The clock struck one /The mouse ran down…”)

    Apparently there isn’t any other natural-history museum on this planet.
    Perhaps change the articles: A Natural History Museum, A British Museum? It’s next door to The Science Museum.

    referring to government ministers as “Minister Murphy”
    I just saw a historical drama in which a character is made to say “May I introduce Deputy Prime Minister Attlee…” It was a British film. I got up and left in disgust.

    *(i.e. he probably wasn’t)

  24. John Cowan says:

    There’s no reason for The Times to bear a city name either, apparently.

    Here in New York we have the American Museum of Natural History, as if there were no others in America. Curiously, the populace (who are very fond of its dinosaurs) calls it the Natural History Museum, whereas to the professionals it is the American Museum.

    At CCNY all classes were known by a four-letter abbreviation representing the department and a number, thus: PHYS 203.2, where the decimal point signifies that there is an identical 203.1 and perhaps others with identical subject matter but taught at a different time. While registering, which in those days involved wandering the gym locating the tables assigned to the departments whose courses one wanted to take. I noticed one table I couldn’t identify prominently labeled AMNH. Sure enough, the classes in question were taught at the Museum by their own staff, but counted as CCNY classes.

    Unfortunately, I hadn’t taken the prerequisite classes needed to take any of them.

  25. It must have been hard for French social climbers to navigate among all the robins and cardinals without ruffling a few feathers.

  26. AJP Crown says:

    Montaigne: A Life
    by Philippe Desan, translated by Steven Rendall and Lisa Neal.
    Princeton, 796 pp., £32.95, January 2017

    Has anyone here read it?

    From Tobias Gregory’s LRB review:

    Philippe Desan’s biography aims to debunk the familiar picture of Montaigne as an aristocratic sage in retirement. ‘The literary and philosophical constitution of the Essais,’ he writes, was influenced by Montaigne’s need to realise his political ambitions and aspirations. We have to demystify the conventional image of the essayist isolated in his tower, far from the agitations of his time, playing with his cat and inquiring into the human condition. Even when he retired from society, the author of the Essais aspired to rejoin it and resume his political service.

    In place of the conventional image, Desan substitutes a portrait of the essayist as a minor politician. As he tells it, Montaigne left the magistracy having been turned down for promotion and bored with the work.

    Who has an image of him as an aristocratic sage in retirement??? Certainly no one who’s read Sarah Bakewell’s excellent How to Live book. Her book has all sorts of detail showing he was nothing of the sort. Amongst other things there’s a vivid account of his education for the legal profession in Bordeaux and then of his experience with the royal bureaucracy in Paris.

  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable.

  28. Stu Clayton says:

    OK, I’ve ordered the Bakewell.

  29. All iron in my blood came from exploding stars.

  30. Lars Mathiesen says:

    How many people would you have to dispose of before she became Queen?

    It doesn’t work that way, only descendents of Christian X who have gone to a school in Denmark and haven’t married a commoner or a foreign head of state can become monarch. In effect, that’s the Queen’s sons and grandchildren and her youngest sister (who would be a stopgap since her children were schooled in Germany and were excluded, including their descendants). 12 people all in all, but they are rarely in the same place at the same time.

    Of course a solution could be found if one was wanted, but I don’t think there would be popular support for offering the job to a cadet branch of Sweden (for instance). Nor political.

    Also, in these days of smaller families, cadet branches that maintain proper decorum are thin on the ground. Maybe the Dutch have someone who is sufficiently boring?

  31. AJP Crown says:

    Stu, let me know what you think of it. The other one that’s 800 pages, by Philippe Desan, I think anyone’s time would be better spent reading Montaigne.

  32. Has any country gone ever from being a monarchy to a republic simply because the ruling family had died out? Nepal comes close.

  33. Stu Clayton says:

    I think anyone’s time would be better spent reading Montaigne.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  34. Who has an image of him as an aristocratic sage in retirement??? Certainly no one who’s read Sarah Bakewell’s excellent How to Live book.

    I.e., 99.999% of humanity. I, for my sins, have not read Sarah Bakewell’s excellent How to Live book, and I had a vague sense of him as an aristocratic sage in retirement. But I am not a Montaigne scholar.

    I think anyone’s time would be better spent reading Montaigne.

    Unless one is a scholar; they are presumably the primary audience for the book. Not everything has to be a concise intro.

  35. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    navigate among all the robins and cardinals

    Just an excuse to mention something I learned this week: Cardinal Tauran, who announced Habemus papam when the present Pope was elected, was my twin. I knew I had a French cardinal as twin, but I couldn’t recover the information the previous time I checked. If you search for people born on a particular day you mostly get “celebrities” that you’ve never heard of.

  36. It’s where the Natural History Museum is. (That’s its full name. Apparently there isn’t any other natural-history museum on this planet.)

    This is a rather silly complaint. Do you mutter the same thing into your beard when you pass, for example, the Musee des Arts et des Metiers? Or any other museum (or indeed institution) that doesn’t carefully include a geographical indication in its name, for the benefit of people who don’t know what city they’re standing in?
    How unpleasant you must find government departments, with their bold assertions that Earth contains no other Ministry of Finance. And that is nothing compared to the arrogant insistence of police stations, taxi ranks, public toilets and post boxes everywhere that they are the only one in the world.

  37. John Cowan says:

    Has any country gone ever from being a monarchy to a republic simply because the ruling family had died out?

    China is another near-miss. When Dowager Empress Cixi, who had ruled China behind the scenes from the death of her husband in 1861, knew in 1908 that she was near death, she apparently poisoned her nephew, the then-reigning Emperor, and he died the day before she did, leaving a two-year-old on the imperial throne of China. Puyi had neither a proper support system nor institutional credibility. (Henry VI of England was of similar age, but though his regents made rather more their share of mistakes, leading to the loss of France and his own eventual deposition by force, they did not actually destroy the monarchy.)

    Three years later, the Republic of China was declared, and six-year-old Puyi abdicated the following year. But declaring a republic doesn’t make one, and for the next forty years China was in a second period of “warring states”, none of whom (including the ROC government and the Communists) were strong enough to take full power, but were doing the weasels-in-a-hole thing with great enthusiasm.

    I am inclined to think that this is the normal course of events after a rotten monarchy collapses: there is chaos until another de facto monarch seizes power by force. Though I have to say that this did not happen in Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, or for that matter in St. Petersburg in 1908: instead people created local councils that sent delegates to higher-level councils and so on, though anyone could attend any council at any level. The Soviet regime wound up being a bureaucratic parody of this system.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    I happened to notice yesterday evening that the official twitter account of the current U.S. Secretary of Defense is named “Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper.” Throwing in the “Dr.” in that context seems to my AmEng ear as, shall we say, gratuitous if you’re not German? But his official bio on the DOD website consistently refers to him as “Dr. Esper” so I guess he’s into it. Of course, both the “Secretary” title and the “Dr.” title are very “of the robe.” But the *official* order of precedence that was linked to above doesn’t give him an extra bump for the doctorate.

  39. I.e., 99.999% of humanity.

    Sadly, I would guess that less than 5% of humanity has any idea who Montaigne even was in the first place, so they certainly have no preconceived notions.

  40. I, for my sins, have not read Sarah Bakewell’s excellent How to Live book
    – Boy, I hope it’s as good as I’ve made out. I enjoyed it at the time but it was several years ago.

    I had a vague sense of him as an aristocratic sage in retirement. But I am not a Montaigne scholar.
    Bakewell seems to have been a bestseller so I assume a fair number of people reading Gregory’s review already know something of Montaigne’s life. You don’t have to be a Montaigne scholar for that. It’s very unfair of Gregory to say Desan is “setting the record straight,” and of Desan to write We have to demystify the conventional image of the essayist isolated in his tower: for one thing, whatever he means by ‘demystify’, that image is correct, just not complete. But it’s not Desan who “substitutes a portrait of the essayist as a minor politician,” because as I said, Bakewell already wrote several chapters about Montaigne’s legal career, the parlement and his subsequent shuttling back & forth to Paris. Her book is about the aspects of his life that were important to the work; his friendship with Boétie and his father’s goal that he learned Latin as his first language are other examples.

    I said I think anyone’s time would be better spent reading Montaigne.
    Obviously 800 pages in English is peanuts to an English-speaking Montaigne scholar and ok I should have written ‘my time’.

    I would guess that less than 5% of humanity has any idea who Montaigne even was
    At 7,7b I make ‘less than 5% of (living) humanity’ under 385 million. Even if half of France knows, I’d guess it’s more like a tenth of that.

  41. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Once when I was visiting a former colleague in Birmingham I saw that he had this quotation from Montaigne on his wall:

    Quand je me joue à ma chatte, qui sçait si elle passe son temps de moy plus que je ne fay d’elle?

    I asked him if he knew what chatte meant in modern colloquial French. I think the answer was no, but he guessed on the basis of the calque in English.

  42. Bakewell seems to have been a bestseller so I assume a fair number of people reading Gregory’s review already know something of Montaigne’s life.

    Again, I’m afraid you’re overestimating the impact of Bakewell. I think about the same number of people reading Gregory’s review would know something of Montaigne’s life even had Bakewell gone into, say, baking rather than life-guiding.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Oliver’s son Richard, who owned a farm between the site of the Lycée Charles de Gaulle & South Ken. underground

    Oh. That makes perfect sense. I’m not sure where I got Thomas even from.

    There’s no reason for The Times to bear a city name either, apparently.

    I do think it was at least the first of that name. In US contexts it’s often called “the Times of London”, though certainly not by itself.

    Here in New York we have the American Museum of Natural History, as if there were no others in America. Curiously, the populace (who are very fond of its dinosaurs) calls it the Natural History Museum, whereas to the professionals it is the American Museum.

    In my field people actually call it “the AMNH”, pronouncing the letters out loud.

    Complicating the name issue is the fact that the AMNH is a private for-profit corporation. Maybe it really does want to create the impression that the other institutions in the US with Museum of Natural History in their names aren’t quite the real deal.

    This is a rather silly complaint. Do you mutter the same thing into your beard when you pass, for example, the Musee des Arts et des Metiers?

    Not sure if I’ve ever passed that one, but museums with that particular spread of subject matter seem to be quite rare…

    My background here is that I work at a Museum für Naturkunde, internally abbreviated to MfN. It’s the one in Berlin, not the one in Magdeburg; and that distinction, in practice, needs to be specified often enough that both mention this in their logos, even though it remains absent from their names. Similarly, the one in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe are both Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde (referring to two different states that haven’t existed in a long time).

    je me joue

    Huh, so grammatically reflexive playing isn’t just Czech and (Austrian German, starting with) Viennese.

  44. Stu Clayton says:

    How unpleasant you must find government departments, with their bold assertions that Earth contains no other Ministry of Finance.

    I propose adding “This” to all these nouns, to avoid these hegemonic implications. This Public Toilet, This Ministry of Finance. In this philosophy, that should open these new avenues of this lucubration: “This cat is on this mat”. Dieses Sein und diese Zeit.

  45. Stu Clayton says:

    even had Bakewell gone into, say, baking rather than life-guiding.

    Oh no, I didn’t notice that in time ! Amazon says the book is already winging its way to my wigwam. The speed with which you can get books from there is positively obscene.

    Accordingly, I am conscious of more virtue in now trawling the entrenet in Chile, Argentina and Mexico to find something by Maturana in Spanish that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and is not out of stock. Imagine my dismay should it emerge that he published primarily in English, being a scientist and all. Authenticity fail. Emergent properties are a bitch.

  46. Oh no, I didn’t notice that in time !

    Nothing against Bakewell! I’m sure it’s an excellent book. I just have strong doubts that enough people read it to significantly affect general awareness of Montaigne.

  47. John Cowan says:

    Complicating the name issue is the fact that the AMNH is a private for-profit corporation.

    Private it is; for-profit it is not. Googling for [“American Museum of Natural History” “not for profit”] pulls up many legal papers which uniformly describe it as a not-for-profit educational charity.

    Maybe it really does want to create the impression that the other institutions in the US with Museum of Natural History in their names aren’t quite the real deal.

    Well, it’s certainly the largest.

  48. That’s its full name.

    Only since 1992, though. Before that it was officially the British Museum (Natural History).

  49. @David Marjanović: The American Museum of Natural History is certainly not a for-profit. Moreover, it was originally established by New York state and was only spun off as an NGO later on.

  50. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I am conscious of more virtue in now trawling the entrenet in Chile, Argentina and Mexico to find something by Maturana in Spanish that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and is not out of stock.

    Why do you particularly want something by Maturana in Spanish? Although he has probably published some little known stuff in Chilean journals, I think most his important work since 1973 (De Máquinas y Seres Vivos) has been in English.

    The most recent work I have read is a commentary (pp. 1976-179) after Cadenas, H., Arnold, M., 2015. The autopoiesis of social systems and its criticisms. Construct. Found., 10(2), 169– 176. I don’t think this is behind a paywall: I had no difficulty in downloading it and I don’t think Constructivist Foundations is the sort of journal the CNRS makes available to people like me.

    You might also want to check out the Congreso del Futuro (for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlhMNve1qAY). I’m not sure if it’s printed, but you can listen to him.

    If you tell me more specifically what you are looking for I can probably find out from Juan-Carlos Letelier.

  51. Stu Clayton says:

    Why do you particularly want something by Maturana in Spanish?

    Because 1) I imagined he expressed himself best in Spanish, 2a) I don’t want a translator in my way, 2b) I want to go to the mat with the Spanish of an epistemólogo.

    Ad 1): Luhmann’s English seems to have been OK, Sloterdijk’s is execrable, etc.

    De Máquinas y Seres Vivos sounded just right for an early work. The cover of this edition is cute, it reminds me of the style of an Argentine artist I knew in Bonn in the mid 70s. It’s everywhere out of stock.

    Thanks for the links, I didn’t know where to start so I simply set off on one of the many roads to Rome. I’ll get there eventually – or somewhere else just as interesting. Let’s call it equifinality.

    I’ve downloaded the Cadenas article, looks good. It seems that Varela has written on the Laws of Form, I would like a glance at what he had to say – to be honest I find S-B to be almost unintelligible. It’s fine that Luhmann got a lot out of him, to each his own.

  52. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I’m probably being silly here, and I’ll kick myself when I know, but what is “S-B”?

    Incidentally, Varela’s book El fenómeno de la vida (Dolmen Ediciones, Santiago, Chile) is published in Spanish, but I think most or all of it is translated from stuff originally published in English, and it may well not be Varela’s own Spanish.

  53. I’m probably being silly here, and I’ll kick myself when I know, but what is “S-B”?

    I wondered the same thing.

  54. Varela has written on the Laws of Form

    Googled it and discovered that

    Laws of Form (hereinafter LoF) is a book by G. Spencer-Brown

    S-B is G.Spencer-Brown then.

    George Spencer-Brown (2 April 1923 – 25 August 2016) was an English polymath best known as the author of Laws of Form. He described himself as a “mathematician, consulting engineer, psychologist, educational consultant and practitioner, consulting psychotherapist, author, and poet”.[1]

  55. He described himself as a “mathematician, consulting engineer, psychologist, educational consultant and practitioner, consulting psychotherapist, author, and poet”.

    Oh dear. I’m surprised he didn’t add “universal genius.”

  56. that’s what “polymath” means

  57. David Eddyshaw says:

    Surely that would be “pantomath.”
    Technically, even a humble dimath or trimath would be a polymath.

  58. Stu Clayton says:

    I would suggest that nobody rush out to get a copy of LoF. Let me just excerpt the beginning of Chapter 1 “The Form”, to give a good impression of the book. [Anyone who has read Soziale Systeme will recognize what S-B is talking about …. Either you write oracular post-its, or thousands of pages actually explaining what’s what.]

    # We take as given the idea of distinction and the idea of indication, and that we cannot make an indication without drawing a distinction. We take, therefore, the form of distinction for the form.

    Definition

    Distinction is perfect continence.

    That is to say, a distinction is drawn by arranging a boundary with separate sides so that a point on one side cannot reach the other side without crossing the boundary. For example, in a plane space a circle draws a distinction.

    Once a distinction is drawn, the spaces, states, or contents on each side of the boundary, being distinct, can be indicated.

    There can be no distinction without motive, and there can be no motive unless contents are seen to differ in value. [Here at the latest, still on page 1, the first big WTF sets in, the ed.]

    If a content is of value, a name can be taken to indicate this value.

    Thus the calling of the name can be identified with the value of the content. #

  59. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ah. The Jordan curve theorem. Got it.

  60. Stu Clayton says:

    Yes, that is a lemma.

  61. Stu Clayton says:

    That sentence “Distinction is perfect continence” is known to cognoscenti. Whenever you hear it, run for cover !

  62. So incontinence is indistinct? But it has a distinctive smell…

  63. Stu Clayton says:

    But you can’t always tell exactly which piece of furniture the cat pissed under. So in that sense indistinct, I believe. I blame the élan vital.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    Private it is; for-profit it is not.

    Ah. An odd combination.

    (Makes it slightly harder to explain the exorbitant ticket prices. After all, they get all these gigantic donations of entire wings…)

    British Museum (Natural History)

    Yes. Few people understood that the parentheses were part of the name.

  65. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @Stu, your Maturana link tells me that there are 1 new and 5 used copies for sale, though the prices range from 34 to 176 Euros. (The seller in China describes it as “Book in english, Pro seller”).

    If you wanted it at the original Argentinian cover price, the first problem is that the Peso has devalued by a factor of something like 30 since 2005.

    @DM: Most charities are private but non-profit. In Denmark they have to be non-profit to be allowed to cold-call people and so on. We have a few private museums as well. I do know of one for-profit “museum”, though, Fotografiska Museet in Stockholm, but Wikipedia claims that being for-profit disqualifies it as a museum. (Also it does not do research or maintain collections).

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    I found a copy in Argentina for 26 euros, but the postage to Germany was an additional 25 euros. Surely I can do better than that.

    I found the use of the dollar sign for Argentinian pesos confusing at first, especially because they deal in thousands of them. 857 of them to 1 euro – and the currency converter was not using commas and periods in the correct way.

    Adding to my hesitation was an increasing doubt whether the search for Spanish editions made sense.

  67. Lars Mathiesen says:

    The publisher is willing to send one to Denmark for USD 29.30 (if(!) you have PayPal). Probably the same to Germany. As to making sense, pfft, will it make you happy to have it?

    In the old days, the Danish publisher specializing in non-fiction “evergreens” would stock them as printed sheets and only bind as many as they thought they could sell each year — but those were properly sewn books. This is a paperback, so a kudos to Lumen for keeping it in stock for fifteen years instead of pulping it.

  68. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s great, thanks Lars ! I’ll order it as soon as i get to my computer. I had gone through about 6 other sites with no success.

    I did get Paypal last year. I set up a separate bank account that I pay into only when I order something.

  69. John Cowan says:

    An odd combination

    Not in Les États-Unis de Tocqueville, it isn’t. From Democracy in America volume 2 (1840):

    The political associations which exist in the United States are only a single feature in the midst of the immense assemblage of associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds—religious, moral, serious, futile, extensive or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found establishments for education, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; and in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it be proposed to advance some truth, or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society.

    Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association. I met with several kinds of associations in America, of which I confess I had no previous notion; and I have often admired the extreme skill with which the inhabitants of the United States succeed in proposing a common object to the exertions of a great many men, and in getting them voluntarily to pursue it. I have since travelled over England, whence the Americans have taken some of their laws and many of their customs; and it seemed to me that the principle of association was by no means so constantly or so adroitly used in that country. The English often perform great things singly; whereas the Americans form associations for the smallest undertakings. It is evident that the former people consider association as a powerful means of action, but the latter seem to regard it as the only means they have of acting.

  70. singly

    For some reason, in my mind the word was a math term only.

    Now I realize that it’s just an ordinary English word, but somehow never encountered it outside of math or technical context.

  71. Like most Americans, I’ve always had only a hazy idea of what is meant by “aristocracy,” “nobility,” and the like …, but I’m starting to think hardly anyone understands it, …

    Speaking as a Brit — even one with a school chum who might have been a Viscount except that his dad renounced it to join the Communist Party — I also have only a hazy idea of the British system of aristocracy; let alone any other country’s — I have a brother-in-law of some French minor nobility (with a small share of a crumbling Chateau somewhere in Normandy).

    Of course you wouldn’t expect any full-blooded British aristocrat to have an inkling: they deliberately breed stupidity/ignorance into them. The place to find out about it seems to be BBC World Service cable TV version, which I’m appalled to learn is these days alive with breakfast TV-style fawning sycophants who seem fully informed about Her Majesty’s distress at Harry/Meghan quitting.

    mutter mutter into my beard: the BBC World Service used to be a bastion of level-headed reportage …

  72. I mutter into my beard right along with you!

  73. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I’ll join you in your muttering chorus. Before I actually started listening to it I had the idea that the BBC World Service was a bastion of level-headed reportage. Now I know better. From time to time my wife puts it on, and I can hardly stand it.

  74. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Stu:

    I received an email message from Humberto Maturana this morning that refers to a book that he and Ximena Dávila have written recently: Historia de nuestro vivir cotidiano, Editorial Planeta (2019):

    https://www.planetadelibros.cl/libro-historia-de-nuestro-vivir-cotidiano/307959#soporte/308012

    It costs $5900 for the electronic edition, but those are probably Chilean pesos, so about 6.9€.

    =====

    Our review on Theories of Life has just appeared in BioSystems, and I seem to recall you asked me for a PDF file when it was ready. However, I haven’t found your email address. If you write to me at acornish@imm.cnrs.fr I’ll send it to you.

  75. Stu Clayton says:

    Thanks, Athel ! I’ve written you.

  76. AJP Crown says:

    I can get all the BBC Radio channels on my mobile phone just as if I were in Britain and that’s without resorting to assistance from the dark side. Unless perhaps The World Service is nowadays two or three very, very old pensioners and a coffee machine shut in a closet on an upper floor of Bush House, I’m not sure why it’s still needed.

  77. John Cowan says:

    It’s very unfair of Gregory to say Desan is “setting the record straight,”

    This is P & V disease (not to be confused with the diseases of PiV). It is not enough now that a work be a fine contribution to scholarship and/or belles lettres. No, it must be of such surpassing excellence as to make all previous works on the same subject worthless, and as for the author of such an obsolete work, It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea.

    This Ministry of Finance

    It has been observed that American politicians use the President neutrally or positively, whereas this President has a distinctly negative tone, implying “This President may think, say, or do this or that, but the next President …”

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